OU defense still needs work

Facing the top defense in the country, Sooners need to re-think 3-4

From the day Steven Parker stepped on campus in Norman, he didn’t want to think about himself as a freshman.

Oklahoma wouldn’t let him use youthfulness as an excuse, and he never wanted to do that.

So as he sat and watched tape from the season during the past two weeks in preparation for the Russell Athletic Bowl against Clemson on Dec. 29, he noticed a lot of things about his game.

“I see myself reacting a lot faster than I have,” Parker said. “That goes right back to Day 1 and fall camp and stuff. It was still coming new to me. . . . Progressively at the end of the season, it was just coming a lot faster. I was just reading everything faster.

Everything was just clicking.”

It starts with Parker, but Oklahoma’s defense as a whole is in need of a revamping.

Parker talked about how having three weeks is a nice break from what he discovered was a very fast-paced season. The Oklahoma defensive coaching staff could use the near-month between games to figure out exactly how to fix the major problems plaguing Oklahoma’s defense – or else get embarrassed in a lower-tier bowl by a “back-up” quarterback.

There are two main issues that need to be addressed: Coverage and pass rush.

Believe it or not, but the Oklahoma run defense has been pretty good. The Sooners are allowing just 109.6 yards per game, just two yards per game or 30 total yards out of the top spot. They ranked 10th in the nation.

But when team’s drop back to pass against the Sooners, no one is impressed.

Oklahoma’s secondary has improved, but no one will forget the late busted coverage on Oklahoma State wide receiver Brandon Sheperd. Only Iowa State saved Oklahoma from being the worst pass defense in the Big 12, but 272.7 yards per game is nothing to celebrate – Western Kentucky and Tulsa allowed fewer yards in the air.

So did SMU.

Clemson won’t miss on that point.

“They pass the ball really well,” Oklahoma cornerback Zack Sanchez said. “Everybody has to be on their Ps and Qs.” Oklahoma got back to the basics during the bowl practice according to Sanchez. The Sooners were playing top units against each other, and it’s needed.

Maybe more than basics, Oklahoma needs simplicity. The secondary is catching up rapidly, but as of right now, it’s still too far behind.

“It’s time for us to make a statement,” freshman cornerback Jordan Thomas said. “It’s been a tough season, and we want to go out with a bang.” The 3-4 was put in to do two things: Be more prepared for passing teams in the Big 12 and dynamically rush the passer.

It hasn’t done either. Oklahoma finished the regular season with 28 sacks, less than three per game. That’s another number that impresses no one. Oklahoma was tied for 44th nationally with teams like Wake Forest, Memphis and Louisiana-Lafayette.

Thus far, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops continues to like what he sees from the current defensive format.

“I feel excited about what our guys have done in the 3-4 practices so far,” Stoops said.

For now, it’s still in and will be challenged when faced with the eye ball test against the No. 1 defense in the country, led by former Oklahoma DC Brent Venables.

“We play with a chip on our shoulders already,” Sanchez said. “Hearing so much about a defense, we want to go in and show who the best defense will be on that day.”

Editor's note: Story has been edited to remove any implication of Bob Stoops saying Mike Stoops might not be at OU next season. Bob has never implied, directly or indirectly, to saying that.

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